Dutee Chand made India incredibly proud in 2019. Not only did she win gold at the World University Games in Spain, but she also courageously came out to the world as queer. This world-renowned athlete became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal in the 100m race and India’s first openly gay athlete! Now isn’t that something?
But not all was smooth sailing on her journey. Opening up about her story, the Olympian athlete spoke about her struggles with being in a same-sex relationship in a country like India. She revealed how it was hard to come out to a society with so much prejudice and ignorance, but also how her love for her partner helped her overcome that. She shared her story on @indialoveproject, an Instagram account that celebrates love that goes beyond caste, class, gender, sexuality, and other conformities.
“I met Mona on a visit to my village in Orissa during a Khudurkuni puja in 2017,” she fondly remembered. “She came up to me and said she was a fan, that she had seen me run, and that she loved that I was making our village famous. She took my number and started calling me. She would inquire about my training and soon, we started meeting.”
Soon the two became close and developed a deep connection. “She prayed for me and gave me pep talks before my athletic competitions. We exchanged life stories and found that we could tell each other anything. When I fractured my arm, she stayed with me and took care of me for a month. We fell in love.”
The couple then realised that they wanted to move in with each other. While it was already challenging for a heterosexual couple to live-in before marriage, it was even harder for a queer couple to do so. Dutee recalls how they convinced their families to live together and that love was more important than what people thought.
“In 2018 I asked her (Mona) how it would be if we lived together. We decided to wait for a little and then ask our respective families. At first my mother couldn’t understand what I was saying but then she said that I knew the world better than her and that I should manage my future. “Just ensure you don’t embarrass us”, she said.”
Dutee also spoke about how she had to convince Mona’s parents too. “Mona’s parents were against us moving in but after I spoke to them, her father said if his daughter was happy, he was happy,” she said.
While the couple finally managed to move in, their problems, unfortunately, didn’t take a halt there. During that time, Dutee’s sister and she were having problems. Her sister threatened to publicly out Dutee and her relationship.
“My sister and I were fighting and she repeatedly threatened to ‘expose’ our relationship. I was fed up and told her to go ahead, and one day, she told the local media about Mona and I.”
While many might have let this situation get them down, Dutee decided to take control of her own narrative. “It was then, in June 2019, that I spoke openly about my relationship and became the first Indian athlete to come out,” she said. NGL, it was such a courageous move!
Dutee also spoke about how many were quick to judge and began to disapprove of their relationship. However, like a true athlete, she did not quit. Dutee decide to educate the audience on queer relationships as she spoke about her journey and soon found people who were accepting.
“Lots of people criticised us, many brought up all sorts of questions about my gender but then I went on a couple of shows (KBC, Kapil Sharma) and people began accepting our relationship. The LGBTQI community reached out and told me I wasn’t alone in this struggle. On Valentine’s Day this year, Odia magazine Kadambini put us on the cover and we got a lot of love from readers,” she revealed.
Today, Dutee and Mona continue to share a loving relationship. However, understanding that love has its obstacles, Dutee has always given Mona an out if she ever needed it. “I’ve told Mona many times to leave me if she wants a more traditional life. She always says no.”
Not only is Dutee a gifted athlete, but she also wishes to be an LGBTQ+ activist and help people understand that love has no bias. “Love doesn’t see caste, gender, age, or religion. It doesn’t matter who you love, as long as your heart is happy and you’re at peace. Many people choose to live alone too. It’s our freedom, our choice, our responsibility and it’s not nice when someone interferes with this,” she proudly said.
While things are slowly changing in India and people progressively understand the importance of inclusivity, there’s still a long way to go. We’re just hella proud of Dutee for sharing her story and being so unapologetically herself.
Pride month or not, it’s always important to remember that #LoveIsLove. We have to make the extra effort to educate ourselves and remember to always be kind. Here’s hoping for a better, more inclusive tomorrow!
Featured Image: Instagram